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GOP gains Senate; Southern Baptists win

WASHINGTON (BP) — Voters gave the Republican Party a majority in the U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s mid-term election, leaving President Obama without a Democratic-controlled chamber in Congress for the first time since he took residence in the White House nearly six years ago.

Southern Baptist candidates, meanwhile, won first-time seats in Congress as part of the Republican blitz, but social conservatives did not fare well on some state initiatives.

The GOP gained at least seven senatorial seats Nov. 4, with winners in at least two races yet to be determined. Republicans will have at least 52 seats in the 100-member Senate beginning in January.

In the House of Representatives, Republicans expanded their majority. It appears the GOP will gain at least nine seats to push its total to 243 or more in the 435-member chamber.

Social conservatives said the results showed that Democrats’ “war-on-women” rhetoric against Republican pro-life candidates — seemingly successful in the past — had worn out its welcome with voters.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the election illustrates that “the pro-life issue persists and can win,” which he deemed the “most important aspect” of Election Day 2014.

“Candidates who articulated explicitly their commitment to life won, and those who expected to use abortion as a ‘wedge issue’ to benefit the ‘pro-choice’ cause lost,” Moore said in a written statement for Baptist Press. “We should pray now that the newly elected Congress and the president will be able to work together for just policies that protect and promote human dignity, family stability and religious liberty.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said the “overwhelming victory for pro-life candidates signals the fact that the bottom has fallen out of the abortion-centered ‘war on women’ strategy.”

What the party divide between the White House and Congress means legislatively for the next two years remains to be seen. It appears unlikely the GOP, which is the more conservative of the two major parties, will be able to push conservative measures — especially on social issues — past the president’s veto pen.

Republicans in the Senate, however, could present a significant hurdle for Obama nominations to the Supreme Court and other federal judgeships. Obama already has placed two liberal justices — Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — on the high court with Senate confirmation during his presidency.

Members of Southern Baptist churches won races in both houses.

Rep. James Lankford, a Republican who has served four years in the House, easily gained the Senate seat vacated by retiring Sen. Tom Coburn in Oklahoma. Lankford had 68 percent of the vote with final results still being tabulated. He was the director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center for 13 years before his 2010 election to the House.

BP has learned of the following Southern Baptists, all Republicans, who won first-time election to the House:

— Mark Walker won in North Carolina’s 6th District with 59 percent of the vote. He served for about 15 years in a variety of pastoral roles. Most recently, he was associate pastor of music and worship at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro.

— Jody Hice took Georgia’s 10th District seat with 67 percent of the vote. He served churches in Georgia for nearly 25 years, most recently as pastor of The Summit Church in Loganville.

— Steve Russell replaced Lankford in Oklahoma’s 5th District by winning 60 percent of the vote. Russell is a member of First Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma City.

Several states made decisions on two divisive social issues: abortion and marijuana.

— Pro-life advocates gained an important win in one state but lost in two others. Tennessee voters approved an amendment affirming that nothing in the state constitution can be construed to support an unfettered right to abortion, thereby giving legislators more authority to regulate abortion. Voters in Colorado and North Dakota, however, defeated pro-life amendments.

— Voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia approved pro-marijuana initiatives. Florida voters rejected an amendment to legalize medical marijuana, though 58 percent cast ballots for it. The measure required 60 percent for passage.

The party division between the White House and Congress led Lankford to say Senate Republicans must block policies Obama is advancing while promoting their own proposals. The GOP should “lay out things that the Senate should move and the president will have a very difficult time vetoing because the American people quite frankly already wish they had it now,” he said in a post-election webcast hosted by Family Research Council Wednesday (Nov. 5).

Religious liberty — which is increasingly being challenged in conjunction with same-sex marriage and mandatory abortion coverage with healthcare plans — is a priority for him, Lankford said.

“People that have faith should be free to be able to live their faith in the workplace, at home, wherever they are,” Lankford said on the FRC webcast. “So whether you are a chaplain in the military, whether you are a small business or a large business and choose to live and practice your business by biblical practices or whether you are just an individual trying to make decisions … and do it by biblical practices, that is your free choice as an American, and we’ve got to find ways to be able to protect that.”

When Obama won his first presidential election in 2008, he helped bring Democrats — who already controlled the Senate — into dominant majorities in both chambers. The GOP, however, regained control of the House in 2010, and the Democratic majority in the Senate shrunk.